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THE FREEDOM TRAIL Boston, Massachusetts

The Massachusetts State House
The Massachusetts State House

In October 2012, X-Press Magazine’s Global Correspondent BEN WATSON packed his bags and waved goodbye, after 19 years, to Perth. His mission: to see the whole damn world while he can.

America! The word means so many different things to so many different people, both within and without the States. There are 317 million folks living under the Stars & Stripes, from the very-liberal hedonists of San Francisco to the teetotal ‘dry counties’ of Kentucky, and each of ‘em brings their own values to the table. There is a place for almost everything here.

Yet among the country’s Anglosphere cousins – Australia and the UK – the US remains widely misunderstood. There are tons of preconceptions, and most of them are either nonsense, wilful ignorance, or a failure – on our part – to recognise complexity and historical context.

So for a visiting Australian, how can you start to really get your head around this delightfully different and sometimes surprisingly quaint society? Well, if you’re in Boston, hit the Freedom Trail.

This is where it all began – the American Revolution – and you’re going to want to allow a good four hours, including coffee and wi-fi breaks, for this 7km wander that starts downtown on Boston Common, swings through the deeply historic (and gorgeous) North End, crosses the river to Charlestown and then loops back on itself. It’s extremely easy to follow.

It is highly, highly recommended to take a camera along on this one, because unless you’re a massive history buff or grew up in the States, it’s highly unlikely that you will really understand what you are looking at. It could be six months before you sort through your travel photos and decide to Google who Paul Revere actually was, how his midnight ride out to the countryside fit in with the first shots fired in the Revolution, the Siege of Boston, and the Battle of Bunker Hill.

But you will have been to these places. You’ll have seen the spot where thousands of colonists met up ahead of the Boston Tea Party in 1773. And you’ll remind yourself that all of this predated the French Revolution. These dudes were pioneers in every respect. They didn’t invent republicanism, by any stretch, but they were determined to make it work – to do things differently – to just go for it and see what happens. That is the American spirit.

For the mad cultural observer, the grooviest stops on the trail are actually its three cemeteries, the oldest of which (King’s Chapel) dates from 1630. The impeccably preserved headstones offer a mind-blowing insight into the culture and imagery surrounding death in the colony’s early years. Who knew Puritans were so grim?

This juxtaposition between gorgeous architecture, bold ideals, hope, progression and freedom; amid death, war and conflict; is symbolic of the USA. From the very beginning, they had to be fighters, and that really hasn’t changed. But one of the most endearing American traits is their willingness to look around and see the positives – to respect one another’s success.

We could learn a lot from that.

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